The Chimp Paradox - Control Your Naughty Mind



The 7 focuses of Chimp Paradox that you work on in turn:

1.       Inner mind

2.       Understanding and relating to others

3.       Communication

4.       The world in which you live

5.       Your health

6.       Your success

7.       Your happiness

Chimp journey.jpg

The system breaks down the psychological coaching in to an easy to imagine model of 7 Planets & their Moons that make a solar system. It teaches you to understand how all the parts interact so that you can find balance and help the ‘sun’ in the middle of your psychological Universe, your inner mind, shine bright.

Inner Mind – “Your Divided Planet”

You have three brains, working together and sometimes against each other. Frontal, limbic and parietal lobes of the brain are used in this model to explain the functioning of the brain. This is done for simplicity because what’s really happening is more complicated than that but can be understood very easily by imagining these three areas control the other unmentioned parts.

Frontal = Human

Limbic = Chimp

Parietal = Computer



The limbic and frontal lobe actually develop independently in the womb and later join (still in the womb ideally!). This is reflected in their output – they often don’t agree. You have two beings in your head.

Only one of these is you; the human.

The chimp is an emotional machine that thinks differently from you and offers you feelings that can be constructive or destructive, but more than that it actually makes decision for you. It can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

Annoyingly the stronger of the two is the chimp so it is often the winner of the ongoing debate in your head… “should I make tomorrow’s lunch and go to bed early or should I eat Haagen Daas and net flick…?” etc

The point of the chimp paradox system is to learn to manage your chimp; to harness it’s POWER when it’s working for you and to NEUTRALISE it’s input when it is working against you.


Recognise your chimp: how many times have you had a battle to change your behaviour or emotion?

Under brain scans you can literally see blood flow to the different areas of the brain; when you’re calm and thinking rationally more goes to the human (frontal lobe) when you’re under stress more goes to the chimp (limbic area).


Each chimp is born with a pre-determined personality, you cannot change it in as much as you cannot change your height. It is a powerful bit of machinery, emotional thinking machinery, that is separate to you, it will manage your life for you (badly) if you let it, with the sole aim of ensuring the next generation.

“This is a key point that you should stop and think about because it is crucial to your success and happiness in life… Having a chimp is like having a dog. You’re not directly responsible for it’s nature but you are responsible for managing it.” Dr Steve Peters

I am so grateful for this explanation because it gave me freedom from the dogged guilt I felt for all the negative behaviour I have ever displayed, which was an obvious product of a terribly managed and fearful chimp. For anyone who’s struggled with their self-control, guilt and the loss of hope for future improvement that stems from it, is a compounding factor in the struggle. If you believe that at your core you’re an emotional eater/procrastinator/whatever, you will likely play out that story when the next testing moment comes. Remember a lot of your identity, exactly as you’re feeling it right now, is powerfully imagined in to existence by the stories floating round your head. It is in flux xxxxxxx. If your chimp is continually pushing you to short term acts of xxxx you will keep laying down these medium-term responses (stories you tell yourself about yourself) that in the long-term become your life. BUT if you can learn to see the chimp’s actions and learn that they are separate from your human… maybe you can drop the guilt, feed the hope and start telling yourself better stories.


The Human

There is another player in this game and you must understand your human too, without muddling it up with your chimp. There are always two interpretations of every situation happening in your mind, the human is also a powerful thinking machine, it’s a little less emotional and a little less powerful, but it’s you and you have to really think about what it wants if you’re to be happy and successful. This cannot be a chimp bashing exercise it must be positive.

The Computer

Spread throughout the whole brain the computer is a storage system for thoughts and behaviours that the chimp OR human save into it. It then creates actions automatically or serves as a reference point for the chimp or human to check against new situations.


Recognise The Drives Of YOUR Chimp

So yes this system is largely about keeping your chimp controlled so your human and computer can run things. But it’s not really ‘chimp-negative’. The chimp is useful for energy, emotion and gut feel so don’t be down on your chimp, understand it and give it what it needs. All chimpos have all these drives, but to varying degrees based on the nature your chimp was born with and how it was nurtured in your early life (xxxxx???). Have a deep think about what affects you, try to get under your skin to listen to your chimp

·         Territory

·         Inquisitivity

·         Security

·         Troop

·         Sex

·         Aggression

·         Prenatal

·         Recognition from those I respect




Chimp Control Methods offered by the System

In regards to health the chimp and the human often have completely conflicting agendas. And that’s why the model is SO important for people working on these behaviours.

Your chimp’s goal in life is to minimise effort (both mental + physical) and to max out on short term pleasures. So while your human makes plans to gradually build fitness and feel the grounding positivity of eating healthily, your chimp sits in the shadow laughing.

Until you understand this dynamic you will not change what you want to change. Understand that your chimp is separate from the person reading this article and you are responsible for managing that chimp. Steve Peters says you must have a NEAT system for chimp management; Normalise, Expect, Accept and Take care of your chimp.

Here are some of the exercises from the book for you to try:



1.       Set aside some development time to think about your behaviours. Make it a habit by making it easy for the chimp (short, 10 mins) and predictable (same time every day). This time allows your human to calmly review what is in the computer and modify it, creating new patterns for automatic behaviour. Reflect on last 24 hours of management. When is your chimp forcing you into thoughts, feelings and behaviours that you don’t want to have? This will start the process of learning the difference between your chimp and human.

2.       Write about your chimp and your human. Take some time to get in to your past and present actions, desires, strengths and weaknesses. Focusing on the chimp and human model may give you room to think deeper and allow you to have some breakthrough realisations. Aha moments for the soul.

3.       Nurture your chimp. A contented chimp will create less resistance. When you know what your chimp wants you can consciously give it to them before it gets desperate – Are they nervous of their territory? Spend time in places you control with people you know. Are they worried about losing social connection or status? Make sure you talk to friends and do favours for them regularly.

4.       Exercise your chimp. Are they angry about an upcoming event? Vent, scream and argue the toss against the target of their anger, quietly on your own. Once the chimp is satisfied go and do what you need to do.

5.       On your deathbed your grandchildren ask you “What should I do with my life?” Answer this without thought right now. What you write down are your values, or what Dr Peters calls your stone of life. Live by them.

6.       Review the mindsets that you regularly display. Check that you aren’t running impossible expectations of life that are creating obvious avoidable anxiety/anger/rebellion. Dr Peters calls these Gremlins - they are messing up your machine. For example “I’m going to be the best at everything I do”… “Things should  just fall in to place even if I don’t try, they always do.” Or negative mindsets that set you up to fear and filtering for facts that validate those fears “The world is a difficult journey so you must be aware of problems.” Or “I am worse than average at concentrating/expressing emotion/etc”.

7.       Try to replace the gremlins discovered above with autopilots; responses to a defined problem that you teach your computer to invoke immediately before the gremlin gets a chance to take hold. Thus short circuiting the loop that has messed you up so many times.



Poor first impressions take 7 further meetings to change, the way that humans and chimps deal with impressions is great food for thought on your filters:

Chimps – get an impression then look for supporting evidence.

Humans – look at the evidence then create an impression.

If you extend that example out to how you think about other parts of your life it’s clear to me there is great scope in this system for me and my clients to smooth out base emotional reactions and get better control over our health decisions.

Humans don’t always get it right. Chimps don’t always get it wrong. But seeing the difference and choosing how to act at critical points in your day could have HUGE implications for anyone involved in the struggle against poor health choices. Marketers (and it seems the whole modern world) are experts at tempting your chimp, with deep thought and resources explicitly aimed at getting an emotional response from it. We need to develop the psychological tools to step away from those exuberant knee jerk reactions and win back our self-control.

I like to think of my chimp as a child in a supermarket pulling on its mum’s hand whining and guilt tripping for a packet of Haribo. You understand why the child wants it and you feel benevolent not angry, but we all know the child should not win that battle.

 “Aggressive emotional reactions nearly always lead to worse outcomes, pausing allows you to make the best response.” Steve Peters


 Good luck




p.s. There are many other great lessons in the chimp paradox that are too wide ranging to fit in this article. It talks about common mindset problems and solutions; how to communicate better with other peoples’ chimps and how to negotiate; how to select and nourish your inner circle (or Troop); how to deal with instant stressors and chronic stress; defining and working toward success.

Perhaps I’ll write about them another time but frankly you should read the book. You will never ever regret it. I don’t have kids yet but I want to teach it to them. We don’t get taught anything about how to understand our thought processes as society is now, a huge leap forwards would be our children being taught to be humans and chimps.

James Hardy